North America’s obesity problem has spread to its domestic cats, new research has found.
The first-of-its-kind study showed that just as citizens in the US and Canada have been overeating for years, they have also been over-feeding their feline pets.
The average weight of a spayed female cat went up 24 per cent between 1995 and 2005, while the increase was around 19 per cent for male cats.
Researchers at Ontario Veterinary College said the problem had gone largely unnoticed because cats visit the vet less frequently than dogs and are less likely to be weighed.
It is also harder to judge weight gain in a cat by eye.
“As humans we know we need to strive to maintain a healthy weight, but for cats there has not been a clear definition of what that is, we simply didn’t have the data,” said Theresa Bernardo, professor of population health at the college.
Her colleague, Dr Adam Campigotto, who led the research, added: “We do have concerns with obesity in middle age, because we know that can lead to diseases for cats, such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and cancer.”
The team analysed 45 million weight measurements on 19 million cats taken at vets across the US and Canada.
They found that male cats tended to weigh heavier than females, and that spayed or neutered cats tended to be heavier than unaltered cats.
The data showed that most cats steadily increase their weight up until the age of eight.
The trend is analogous to human obesity rates in the US, which rose across the same period to around 35 per cent.
“Cats tend to be overlooked because they hide their health problems and they don’t see a vet as often as dogs do, so one of our goals is to understand this so that we can see if there are interventions that can provide more years of healthy life to cats,” said Professor Bernardo.
The research team now plans to turn its attention to the development of automated feeders in a bid to cut down on cat obesity.
They suggested the technology could be combined with built-in scales.
Dr Campigotto warned cat owners to weigh their pets more often.
“If your cat is gaining or losing weight, it may be an indicator of an underlying problem,” he said.
The new research is published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.